It's not a scientific study, but the best way to find out whether alternative transportation is worth using is to try it. My car was in the shop this morning. Instead of asking a colleague, or the courtesy car for a free ride (still the best alternative if it is available), I decided to make use of the newest and highly promoted alternatives - MetroRail, Austin's light rail, and the Car2Go program. In previous posts I documented my frustrations with the Car2Go sharing system, but I was willing to have another try.
The result of my morning experiment is surprisingly positive. The rail stop happens to be a few blocks from the shop, so in the waiting room, I easily consulted the schedule on line. Darn, I had just missed the stop. Not to worry, the train frequency is now greatly expanded, another was due in 20 minutes. This gave me just enough time to grab a breakfast sandwich and stroll over to buy my ticket.
For a one-dollar fare, MetroRail was a delight. A number of passengers were in the car, but there was plenty of room. The crisp interiors were bright and comfortable. One rider brought his bike, which hung easily on the rack by the door. The stop closest to the office is still too long to walk on a hot day. I made arrangements for a colleague to pick me up at the exact time of the scheduled arrival. In minutes, we were back at work.
I had noticed a Car2Go vehicle parked near the office yesterday. When the repair shop called to tell me they were done, I strolled up the block to find it. The last driver had thoughtfully parked under a tree, mindful of the shade. I pulled out my card to place it on the windshield reader and saw a new sticker right above the reader. Car2Go reminds you to only use the BLUE card (see my previous post).
The blue card and the reader liked each other this time (see my other Car2Go post), so the car opened promptly. I remembered how impressed I had been when I drove the previous Car2Go. This time was even better. These cars may be small on the outside, but they have roomy interiors. I appreciated the generous headroom and legroom. The car felt very solid on the road. The semi-manual shift felt a little awkward, but I quickly got used to it. I even found KUT, my favorite radio station, on the touchpad screen.
When I got to the shop, I made sure I parked as instructed in a legal space on the street. There was a small spot open in a long row of cars that looked about the right size. Parallel parking was a breeze, and the car is so small that I probably could have fit two cars. I made sure to pass on the favor extended to me. I backed the car far enough to fit completely under the shade tree.
My alternative transportation experience was terrific. Both transportation modes, the rail and the shared car, worked flawlessly. But most of all, the quality of the ride and the overall experience was comparable to my expectations as a car owner. In Austin, alternative transportation has definitely matured. For my needs, it has become a credible choice that I will use at least occasionally or when my primary car is not available.
Transportation has a huge impact on our built environment. Have you tried any alternatives to the single-passenger car? Have they been as positive? We'd love to hear any thoughts or observations.
The following is part one of a three-part blog post on baptismal fonts wherein I will look at various technical and design issues. A companion blog post, written by Ben Heimsath, will delve more into the liturgical aspects of baptism and how they relate to the overall space.
I truly enjoy designing religious spaces (churches, temples, worship spaces, sanctuaries, chapels, prayer spaces, etc.), as they allow me to explore the artistic side of design while combining it with the technical side of engineering. I have always been interested in both; I have a BA in engineering with a minor in visual studies and have been planning on being an architect since 7th grade. Occasionally, we have been commissioned to design baptismal fonts for our spaces, and this really plays to the combination of art and technology that I enjoy so much.
St. Albert Trapani Catholic Church, Houston, TX -- Zero-edge font with immersion
Fortunately, we are seeing our clients pay more attention to baptism and how it fits within in the spaces we design. The symbol of baptism, the symbol of flowing waters and the beauty of these pieces have led many of our clients to allow us to create meaningful, sculptural fonts in prominent locations in their worship spaces. We have seen the concept of immersion baptism spread beyond the traditions of Catholic, Baptist and Mormon churches to new locations and new denominations.
If you are thinking about designing or commissioning a new baptismal Font, there are four basic issues to consider: type, location, code, and technicalities.
I think of baptismal fonts as belonging to one of three categories: traditional, flowing, and immersion. Actually there is a fourth category, but since bodies of water (like lakes, streams, oceans—the original location for baptism) do not require much designing on my part, I won’t cover those here.
Three Traditional Fonts: St. John Lutheran, Boerne, TX – First United Methodist Chapel, Austin, TX – First Presbyterian, Bryan, TX
The first of the three man-made types is the traditional font. This type of font usually involves some sort of stand with a vessel to hold the water. They are often moveable (depending on the size and weight of the stand and bowl) and usually do not have flowing water. We have done a portable traditional font with flowing water using a small battery-powered recirculation pump (from a camping store), but I am not sure I want to repeat this. There are an infinite number of different ways one can combine materials, stands, and bowls to come with a beautiful design that fits the space.
The second type of baptismal font is what I call a flowing water font. This type of font adds flowing water and sometimes a shallow pool to add the imagery and sound of flowing water. Though the flowing water makes the font fixed in location and more complicated/expensive to design and build, the advantages in terms of beauty, feel, and what they can add to the space make them very popular.
St. Elizabeth Catholic Church, Lubbock TX – Water flows from bowl and splashes inside special area where it magically drains. Gates allow people to flow through during baptism, but close the font off for safety reasons at other times.
Wellspring United Methodist Church, Georgetown TX – Water bubbles up through a limestone slab found on site as part of excavation.
Salem Lutheran Church, Houston TX – Water flows out of the custom-made red glass bowl down the limestone support and into a 9” pool.
The third type of baptismal font is an immersion font. In these fonts the water is deep enough that an adult can be completely submerged. While the much deeper water brings in a lot more technical difficulties, such as getting people safely in and out of the water and keeping the water clean and heated, the symbolism is great and is required in some churches.
First Baptist, Dripping Springs, TX – A traditional behind-the-platform baptismal font with a pre-manufactured fiberglass vessel.
St. Frances Cabrini, Houston, TX – A statue of John the Baptist pours water to the upper bowl, which serves for baptism of infants and as a Holy Water Font. The water then flows down the stone to the immersion pool.
That is it for this week. Next week we will look at the location of the baptismal font!
On a recent trip, I stopped in again at the all faiths chapel in the newest DFW terminal. Don't consult the kiosks or directional signs; the chapel isn't marked. You may notice the one institutional sign over the door, provided you look up from the bustle of passengers across from gate D20.
I visited this non-denominational chapel the first time, when the terminal opened in 2005. I had high expectations. Everything else in the terminal has been so thoughtfully designed. The chapel seemed like a complete oversight. I felt offended that the team of celebrated designers and artists had produced such a tepid environment.
This visit, my reaction wasn't as emotional. Still, the chapel is a disappointment. There's little here to inspire; it seems like a watered down version of church. There is an abstract stained glass window, clearly back lit with electric light bulbs. The window is inoffensive, with some leaf-like forms suggesting God's presence in nature. The table and pulpit are solidly built but quite a bit over-scaled for the room. The rack for a prayer shawl seems like a late addition for Jewish visitors. But the sign above it really shows how little thought went into this place. I can't imagine our Muslim brothers and sisters feeling at all welcome in this place.
We've had some very exciting opportunities to work with worship spaces that are non-sectarian. We're currently volunteering our time to organize a restoration program for the Oakwood Cemetery Chapel. This simple structure was built over 100 years ago by the City of Austin as a non-denominational place for burials and small religious gatherings. When the chapel is finally restored, it will be an amazing place for all sorts of receptions, meetings or gatherings, but the plan is to also continue its linage as a place of prayer. See this link to the Save Austin Cemeteries website for a full presentation.
I shouldn't be so surprised that DFW was so completely stumped in making an appropriate design for a spiritual, yet not sectarian worship environment. In "The House of God," a 1946 text, the armed forces are shown to have devised a unique solution - namely, a rotating back wall, with alternating pulpit, altar and bemah. As the image suggests, the chaplains simply finish one service, then rotate the altar away and make ready for the next denomination! I marvel at the ingenuity expressed in these photos, but despair for those who were left with yet another watered-down worship space.
As a planning commissioner, I took a strong stance against street closures. In the late 90's, we had a wave of applications from builders trying to make their projects feel more exclusive. Those requests really bothered me. A public street is an essential connector that makes private properties into a city, town or neighborhood.
If these requests had been approved, (and nearly all were denied) the street would have remained as a public right of way, but a barricade would have kept the public out. That wasn't fair. Also, it would have cut off access to and from the rest of the city.
So. . .it is a big deal for me to promote the surprising benefits of a closed street. There are times and places where I feel just as strongly that a closed street is a good idea. In fact, we've completed two projects recently where public streets were closed and made into private property - and everyone benefited.
There are several critical issues in determining whether a street closure is appropriate. For example, who will actually own the street? Will it be a public, civic or a private owner? Who will maintain it? When the street is closed, what spaces are created for the public benefit?
Here are some great examples of how streets can be closed - for the right reason.
Control Access For Large Events
In these instances, the street remains a public right of way, still owned by the city or town. The adjacent user is allowed to erect barricades to cordon off automobile traffic only for special occasions when lots of people need the space. We have advocated for this type of temporary closure on several occasions. In one recent example, a church was allowed to restrict access on Sundays so children could safely move between the sanctuary and their classrooms across the street.
At the famous Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, the street in front can be temporarily closed for large gatherings. We attended an event there recently, and the crowd naturally lingered and socialized in the street after the program was finished. Special paving on the roadway made the space feel like a large plaza. On a normal day, however, the street remains open for local traffic.
Create a Pedestrian Space
A closed street can become a connecting place. Some uses are best connected with outdoor plazas or walks. This works well, so long as there are sufficient streets nearby for automobile connections. Another example from Los Angeles; the street between two buildings has been closed by the Southwest Law School. This creates a welcome green space right off of busy Wilshire Boulevard.
I spoke with one of the administrators involved with the development, and it looks like they will extend the closed area in the school's current expansion plans. I did not determine whether LA sold the street to the school, or the school created the green lawn on a long-term lease. In any event, while the school makes regular use of the space for its functions, it is required to allow local residents pedestrian access.
My very first experience with the process of street abandonment came early in my career. A church had purchased a foreclosed commercial property that had platted a street, but never actually built it. We realized that the street was not necessary; in fact, it split the church's property in half. With some good explanation, we were able to get the property back from the city authority that owned it. A current client faces a similar type of closure, though the street in question has been paved. We are making plans, once again, to remove an unnecessary street to improve the church's development.
Consolidate a Campus
Our two most recent projects that benefited from a street closure consisted of projects where the site was re-worked by removing public streets.
At the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Austin, the street closure allowed a consolidation of the most intensive uses away from the residential neighborhood. In place of the public street, we created a meandering drive through the property. The driveway also allowed us to expand the overall number of parking spaces. The neighbors were happy since we reduced the need for church parking up and down the remaining streets.
At First United Methodist Church in Temple, Texas, the church was able to close an intersection and create an urban campus. We placed a badly needed fellowship hall and classroom building right in the middle of what had been a through street. Once again, the consolidated plan separated the parking spaces from the buildings, lawns and walkways. The result is an organized collection of buildings that compliment the distinctive historic sanctuary.